No Detroit stand, no problem: Mercedes CLA debuts in Vegas

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Mercedes won't be at the Detroit auto show this year, part of a mass exodus by European luxury brands. Detroit's loss is Las Vegas' gain.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA four-door Coupe made its world premiere at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, January 8, 2018.

The German brand is using the Consumer Electronics Show in Sin City this week to roll out the second generation of its redesigned entry-level CLA four-door coupe.

Six years ago, Mercedes pulled the wraps off the front-wheel drive CLA in Detroit. At $29,900 before destination fee, it was the cheapest Mercedes sedan then offered in the U.S.

In a rapidly changing landscape, automakers have more options today to introduce autos. The explosion of internet media and video streaming has allowed brands to showcase a new car to media outside the clutter of auto show floors.

The high profile of CES and favorable demographics of shows like New York and Los Angeles bring luxury automakers closer to their customers. Other foreign automakers expected to make news at CES this week include Nissan (the extended-range Nissan Leaf), Hyundai (Nexo hydrogen car) and Audi (infotainment system).

Mercedes says CES is ideal for the CLA's debut because members of the news media are in Vegas to see the latest electronic innovations from chipmakers to automakers. Vehicle interiors have become digital devices on wheels. Mercedes wants to show off the evolved version of its MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) infotainment system, which made its debut on the CLA's compact sibling, the A220, at the New York show last year.

With its emphasis on consumer tech toys, CES also offers a youthful customer demographic that Mercedes is trying to attract to its brand with the relatively affordable CLA.

"The new generation of compacts has made a key contribution to the rejuvenation and image change of the Mercedes-Benz brand," said Mercedes in a statement. "At peak times, more than two-thirds of CLA buyers in the U.S. came from competitors. On average, CLA customers in the U.S.A. are around 10 years younger than the typical Mercedes-Benz customer." 

The German automaker has flooded our shores with an expanded SUV, sedan and sports car lineup this decade — often with a sedan and coupe offered in the same segment. Thus, the similarly sized A220 and CLA250 offer customers both a sedan and sexier coupe model for about the same price. Other examples include the GLC and GLC Coupe SUVs, and the GLE and GLE Coupe utes.

The Mercedes CLA is dramatically updated inside and out.

The CLA250 and A220 tout MBUX, which includes an "Interior Assistant" that responds to gesture controls to operate different interior features such as turning on a light when the driver reaches to open a purse in the passenger seat.

Interior Assistant also allows passengers to communicate to the vehicle with voice commands like Apple's Siri or Samsung's "Hey, Google." Say "Hey, Mercedes" and the driver can ask specific navigation instructions like: "Find child-friendly Asian restaurants nearby with a 4-star rating which are neither Chinese nor Japanese." Or Assistant will answer questions like: "What is the fat content of an avocado?"

Interior design has been upgraded after criticism that the first-gen car looked cheap with ill-fitting gaps and a tacked-on dash tablet. The new CLA features an electronic  instrument and infotainment display housed in a broad glass screen, just like upscale Mercedes.

The CLA Coupe's exterior is still its calling card. Its long, fluid shape and star-logo grille echo signature features of the brand's flagship S-class. 

"As a four-door coupe, the new CLA intrigues with its puristic, seductive design," says design boss Gorden Wagener. "The CLA Coupe has the potential to become a modern design icon."

Significantly, Mercedes has upgraded CLA's backside which appeared to sag. The 2020 CLA  tightens up the rear lines with bold haunches and higher, straighter tail-lamps.

Mercedes is light on engine details, but expect the CLA — which will also be offered with all-wheel drive — to share the same 188-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo-4 as found in the A220. A fire-breathing, AMG CLA45 performance variant will likely push 400 horses.

When it goes on sale in late 2019, expect the price of the CLA to creep up from its current $34,095, a jump from the entry-level CLA of six years ago.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.